MEET THE TEAM
Get to know Team WITS
As Chief Executive Officer, Tena oversees the financial growth and strategic implementation of WITS programs, the largest provider of literacy services to Chicago public elementary schools. Formerly as WITS’ Chief Strategy Officer, she oversaw the doubling of individual giving and development of sustainable funding practices. Over 10 years, she has held leadership roles in a variety of Chicago non-profits, with majority being in the education and youth development space. Tena has served as Assistant Director of Corporate Development at the University of Chicago – Booth School of Business, Director of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training Program, and Regional Director at Up2Us Sports. Before moving to Chicago she was a Development Officer at Wayne State University, where she also received both her BA in Public Relations and MBA in Marketing and Management.
Kristen is responsible for creating and implementing evaluation processes for WITS programs that track impact on all key stakeholders. Kristen formerly worked for the Academy of Urban School Leadership as a math tutor in Humboldt Park. She graduated from Roosevelt University with a BA in Journalism. She served two years with City Year at an elementary school in Englewood.
As Chief Development Officer, Ashley manages the development team and provides strategic direction for individual, foundation, and corporate giving, appeals and events, donor and board relations. Ashley formerly worked as Senior Development Representative at American Cancer Society, Midwest Regional Development Manager at Food, Allergy & Research Education, and Senior Director of Special Events at The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. She graduated from the University of Missouri – Kansas City with a BA in Business Administration.
After facilitating WITS programs for three years, Elizabeth now shares WITS’ story by writing grant proposals, conducting prospect research, and cultivating strong relationships with those who are equally committed to inspiring Chicago Public Schools students to be lifelong readers and learners. Prior to joining WITS, she worked as an arts administrator and teaching artist at Emerald City Theatre and Seattle Children’s Theatre. Elizabeth holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dramaturgy from The Theatre School at DePaul University, where she focused on theatre for youth and new play development. Outside of WITS, Elizabeth enjoys trying new recipes, reading, and exploring our wonderful city with her husband John and son Eoin.
Alex Michel, Corporate Partnerships & Events Manager
As Corporate Partnerships and Events Manager, Alex cultivates and develops strategies for corporate giving and relationships and plans and executes WITS annual events, including the Blackboard Affair gala. She graduated with a BA in Art History from Denison University, and has worked at nonprofits and art galleries throughout NYC and recently in Chicago. In her spare time, Alex enjoys NYTimes crossword puzzles and discussing her time studying abroad St. Petersburg, Russia.
Jesse Altman, Program Coordinator
As a program coordinator, Jesse oversees 8 different literacy programs across Chicago, serving students K-8 and managing relationships with corporate partners, volunteers, and school administrators to ensure WITS students are receiving the highest quality programming possible. Prior to WITS, Jesse served in the Peace Corps in Morocco, working with youth to develop their leadership skills, learn English, and grow as individuals through a variety of programs. He received his BA from Tufts University in Boston in International Relations and Economics. Jesse has loved reading since he was a kid and particularly enjoys the fantastical world that Haruki Murakami creates in his books. He enjoys reading, rock climbing, and camping, to name a few things.
Laurie Brooks, Curriculum Manager
In her role as Curriculum Manager, Laurie is responsible for developing, refining, and monitoring the content of all WITS programs to drive outcomes. She provides ongoing literacy, behavior management, and social emotional coaching and training for staff to activate with students and volunteers. In addition, Laurie helps to produce workshops, coach teacher study groups, and support teachers within the Rochelle Lee Teacher Award (RLTA), WITS’ teacher professional development program.
Before joining the WITS team, she taught students in grades PreK-3rd in Chicago Public School classrooms for 7 years. It was there that she was also afforded the opportunity to support and train colleagues and parents on topics like child development, play integration, and her favorite, social emotional teaching and learning. Laurie received her Master’s in Education from the University of Chicago's Urban Teacher Education Program, as well as a BA and MA in Sociology from the University of Illinois at Urbana- Champaign. Currently, she lives on the Northside of Chicago with my feisty bearded dragon, Spike, a former classroom pet that she adopted.
Shawn Bush, M.Ed. Special Education, oversees the Classroom Reading Tutors program and supports the work of the WITS program team. Shawn also manages multiple WITS student literacy programs each week and assists in organizing and curating the WITS newsletter. Before joining WITS, Shawn worked as a high school Learning Behavior Specialist and Special Education Reading Teacher in the southside of Chicago. He received a Master’s degree in Special Education through Dominican University and received his Bachelor’s degree in Philosophy, Law, and Society at American University. In the past, Shawn has worked and volunteered for other literacy and education organizations such as the DC Public Schools office, Jumpstart, and Reading Partners.
Delaney Earley, Program Coordinator
As a Program Coordinator, Delaney builds relationships with volunteers, corporate partners, and school administrators throughout Chicago to provide high-quality literacy programming to WITS students. Before joining the WITS Team, Delaney served at City Year Chicago, where she was a tutor and mentor to 3rd and 4th grade students on the South Side of the city. She graduated from Washington University in St. Louis with a BA in Urban Studies and was excited to return home to Chicago to cheer on the White Sox in person, and spend time with family and friends. The Harry Potter series sparked her love for reading at a young age, and she continues to enjoy a wide variety of literature.
Annie Kennedy, MSW, oversees volunteer recruitment, training, compliance, and appreciation in her role as Community Manager at WITS. She also manages three literacy mentorship programs, supporting 3rd-7th grade students from Fairfield Elementary Academy and LEARN Hunter Perkins. Prior to joining WITS, she worked at the University of Michigan School of Social Work, where she supported MSW candidates as they completed their community-based field placements. Annie holds a Master of Social Work in Management of Human Services from the University of Michigan and a Bachelor of Arts in Fiction Writing from Columbia College Chicago. An avid reader since the age of three, Annie also has a healthy obsession with the movie Jaws.
Sara is a Chicago native and has loved reading ever since she discovered the magical world of books as a young child. Before joining WITS, she interned at Open Books coordinating a literacy program for 3rd grade students and served at City Year Chicago in a 4th/5th grade ELA classroom, both which sparked her passion to support CPS students on their literacy journeys. Sara coordinates 9 volunteer powered programs across the city and loves working with a variety of students and volunteers every day. You can find her hanging out with her dog, running along the lake, or re-reading the Harry Potter series in her free time.
Tra’Lisha coordinates WITS student literacy programs, acts as a liaison between our partner-schools and our community and corporate volunteers and is responsible for reconstructing the WITS Mid-Day mentoring journal to align with Common Core Standards. Tra’Lisha graduated from Dominican University with her BA in English and is currently pursuing her master’s at Lewis University in Organizational Leadership. Prior to coordinating programs, she held AmeriCorps positions with organizations such as Jumpstart and City Year Chicago.
Daphne Robinson, Program and Development Administrative Manager
As program and operations manager, Daphne makes everything run smoothly at WITS and acts as a liaison between program staff and vendors. She also supports the Rochelle Lee Teacher Award program, was a RLTA awardee, and participates in the alumni book club. Daphne received a BA in Theology and Italian from Loyola University Chicago, a Master of Science in Journalism from Roosevelt University, a Master of Arts in Teaching from Roosevelt University and Middle School Endorsement from Roosevelt University. Daphne loves to read.
As Program Director, Ellen cultivates school and corporate relationships, oversees program design and quality control, and manages the WITS library and WITSummer Books initiatives. Ellen formerly served with Christopher House, focusing on adult literacy programs. She earned her BA in English from DePaul University.
MARKETING & COMMUNICATIONS TEAM
Kellie is responsible for all marketing and communications. Her reponsibilites include internal and external communications, social media planning, as well as website design and maintenance. Kellie graduated with a BA in General Fine Arts from the Maryland Institute College of Art and a MFA in Painting and Drawing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Kellie is a practicing artist and has participated in programming at major museums including The High Museum of Art in Atlanta and The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C. Kellie has also shown in galleries both nationally and internationally.